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Due to a coincidental chain of Japanese national holidays, the name Golden Week was given to one of Japans longest and busiest holidays. Golden Week starts with Midori no Hi (Greenery Day) on April 29th and ends with Kodomo no Hi (Childrens Day) on May 5th. Other holidays in between are Kenpou Kinen bi (Constitution Memorial Day) on May 3rd and occasionally Kokumin no Kyujitsu (Peoples Day) on May 4th, and May Day on May 5th. The word Golden Week was first used by movie companies as a media hook to get people to watch more movies.
Excluding Oshoogatsu and summer vacation, Golden Week is the longest holiday of the year. Most companies and schools often allow additional days off in order for Golden Week to become a full week of holidays. Golden Week is an ideal time for the Japanese to travel because of the line of holidays and the pleasant weather. Thus, popular sites and transportation facilities are especially crowded during this time.
Midori no Hi marks the beginning of Golden Week on April 29th and originated during the reign of Hirohito, also called Emperor Shoowa (Shouwa Tennou). Showa, meaning Time of Enlightened Peace was Emperor Hirohitos title and is commonly associated with the period of Hirohitos reign. This day was originally a national holiday honoring the birthday of Emperor Hirohito, but when the emperor died in 1989, the holiday was preserved and changed to Midori no Hi. It has been the custom in Japan since 1948 to observe the reigning emperors birthday as a national holiday and many holidays that originated from a sovereigns birthday have now evolved into holidays celebrated for a reason other than honoring the former ruler.
Emperor Hirohito loved nature and in memory of his reign, which was the longest in the world, April 29th was designated as a day for all people to appreciate nature.
On Midori no Hi, people all over Japan participate in volunteer work focused on beautifying natural sites. Thousands help with planting trees and other flora, cleaning up local parks and nature preserves, while countless others attend public-awareness campaigns to promote the preservation and appreciation of nature. Kids also participate in activities such as walkathons and presentations provided by local parks.
Kenpou Kinen Bi, or Constitution Memorial Day, falls in the middle of Golden Week on May 3rd. This day commemorates the day when the Constitution of Japan was established on May 3rd, 1947, after the war. This anniversary was made a national holiday because of the numerous important changes instigated by the post-war constitution, which held many differences with the Meiji Constitution. Such differences include laws that state that the sovereignty lives with the people and those that give people basic human rights. Possession of arms and military power was outlawed and thus strengthened the goal for peace. The overall purpose of the creation of this post-war constitution was based on democratic principles and the promotion of peace, so it marks a significant change in the Japans government. On this day that honors the commencement of the constitution, many ceremonies are held around the country and thousands of people attend lectures about the importance of the constitutions role since its establishment. On this day, the Diet (Japanese Parliament) building is open to visitors and many people are allowed to enter areas usually closed off to the public.
Acting as a filler holiday between Kenpou Kinen Bi and Kodomo no Hi, Kokumin no Kyujistu in celebrated on May 4th. Kokumin no Kyujistu is also known as Peoples Day, Between Day, and Holiday for a Nation and was first observed in 1999. Created primarily to make Golden Week a consecutive week of holidays, this recently created national holiday is not celebrated if it falls on a Saturday or Sunday.
Kodomo no Hi, or Childrens Day, was originally called Boys Day and marks the end of Golden Week on May 5th. Kodomo no Hi is one the most popular and widely celebrated national holidays. This day also doubles as a seasonal festival, or sekku, called Tango no Sekku (Iris Festival) which also marks the beginning of summer on the lunar calendar. Although it is now called Kodomo no Hi, the festival continues to be celebrated as the Boys Festival. Families with sons participate in the festival to celebrate and ensure their sons future well-being. To respect the importance of children and to promote their health and happiness is the focus of the celebration, but it is just as important for the children to return the respect and express their gratitude for their parents efforts.
There are several possible origins of the holiday known as Tango no Sekku. One possible origin has been traced down to Sechie, an ancient rural Chinese custom in which the royal guards were attired in ceremonial battle garments and accessories. This practice became popular in Japan during the reign of Empress Regnant Suiko (593-629 A.D.). Another possibility from which this celebration stemmed from is the legend of Tokimune Hojos victory over Mongols on May 5th, 1282. Consequently, flags and banners were erected by samurai families to celebrate the victory. One legend depicts the battle between farmers and crop-destroying insects, in which the farmers used bright banners and primitive versions of the scarecrow to scare them off. Representing warriors and then evolving into mere decorative figures mainly kept indoors, the appearance of the mushia-ningyo evolved into the gogatsu-ningyo.
Customs performed during Kodomo no Hi include the raising of koinobori from balconies and flagpoles, and the displaying of gogatsu-ningyo on tiered platforms, similar to hina-ningyo. These items associated with Kodomo no Hi symbolize strength, power and success in life, and are a very common sight during this holiday. In modern times, a gogatsu-ningyo display is constructed in the tokonoma (alcove) in the guest rooms of Japanese households. The display includes samurai dolls and such corresponding ornaments as suits of armor, helmets, swords, bows and arrows, and silk banners. Popular warrior dolls include Kintaro, a famous general; Momotaro, a legendary boy; and Shoki, an ancient Chinese general believed to give protect against devils. On this day, girls become the guest of the boys, as the boys are the girls guests on Hina-matsuri.
The koinobori are cloth or paper streamers made into the likeness of a carp and, festooned with long red and white ribbons and a pair of gilded pinwheels, are hoisted upon a bamboo pole. Each koinobori represents a son in the family, with the largest signifying the oldest son and the smallest, the youngest son. The carp is believed to symbolize strength, determination and spirit because of its physical traits as a fish so full of energy that it can overcome the force of a flowing river. The carp also stands for the courage and perseverance needed to overcome hardships to attain ones goal. Carp, samurai, oak trees, bamboos, and irises all symbolize strength.
Chimaki (a sweet rice dumpling wrapped in iris or bamboo leaves) and kashiwa mochi (a rice cake containing bean paste wrapped in an oak leaf) are traditionally prepared for this day and also symbolize strength. Shobu, the Japanese iris, has always been associated with Tango no Sekku because its long narrow leaf somewhat resembles the shape of a sword. The sound of the word shobu, although written in different characters, resembles the word for striving for success. On Kodomo no Hi, it is a custom for the Japanese to steep the leaves of the shobu in hot water in order to enjoy the fragrance of the Shobu-yu (iris hot-bath) and also because of the belief that the iris holds medicinal powers to ward off illnesses. Sake with finely chopped shobu leaves mixed in it is prepared. In ancient times, the leaves of the shobu was also believed to have some kind of power to extinguish fire. Accordingly, people still observe the tradition of placing shobu leaves in the attic of their houses as a talisman to ward off possible fire breakouts and evil spirits.
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